When I started my debt-free journey, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go a whole year without traveling, which lead me to scrounging up all my tips for how to travel on a tiny budget.
There’s a common theme among people these days, especially millennials..we all want to see the world..and we are all broke (cue tears + laughter). Good thing is, with a little extra work, and help from blogs like mine, it’s possible to travel and save money. I haven’t figured out to how to travel for free yet*** but I have figured out how to do it on a realistic budget, which is good for now!
MONEY SAVING TIPS + TRICKS
I almost always prefer flying over driving..but the price of flights can deter most people. Finding inexpensive flights may seem like finding a needle in a haystack, but I promise it’s simpler than that.
Here are some budget travel tips I’ve learned when booking a flight: Tuesdays have the cheapest fares. This is when airlines post tickets on “sale”. They are snagged quickly, so if you’re trying to book a flight, try around 6-8am on a Tuesday morning for the best fares.
January and February the the cheapest times of the year to travel via airplane (domestic flights). April and October are the most budget friendly months to fly internationally. Traveling during the summer and around holidays is always going to be the most expensive, so being flexible with your dates will help you tremendously.
If you can, buy your ticket 3 months in advance (the 42-100 day range), because you’ll get the lowest fare.
Let’s talk budget airlines…yes they can be rough. I once flew across the country on a budget airline and not only did they not serve water or snacks, but the seats were about as comfortable as a concrete block. Nonetheless, I saved about $300 both ways, so in the end it was worth it!
Traveling to a new place can feel daunting, and to feel more secure, most people want a car to get around. However, if you’re serious about traveling on a budget, ditch the rental car.
Everywhere I go, if it’s doable to do so, I walk. Walking may take a bit longer, but you don’t have to worry about parking and gas..and you actually experience the new environment. If the destination has public transit, invest in it; meaning buy a metro ticket or learn to use the subway system to get from A to B. It truly saves a ton of money and headache!
And if you must get a car because you’re going to a more rural area, consider using a less common company. Costco, AAA, and even Priceline all can get your cheaper rental car rates than the big guys like Budget and Hertz. I’ve been wanting to try out AutoSlash – which compares rates and pulls all the current coupons for rental cars. Also double check that your insurance covers rental cars – most of the time it will, which means you can forego the hefty insurance fee’s rental companies tac on.
The last 4 vacations I’ve taken were all Air-bnb stays. If you want to feel like you’re immersed in the culture of your location and don’t mind figuring things out a bit on your own (assuming the alternate would be a hotel with a concierge, etc) then an Air-bnb is the way to go.
What I love about it is you can book a stay for less than a hotel in major cities, and at the same time you could have an incredible experience staying in a unique place. For example, I stayed in a studio apartment Air-bnb 2 blocks from city center for $80 a night when the hotels on the same block charged $400 a night.
If you travel with your pets (or kids!), having a whole condo or house to stretch out is invaluable. With Airbnb’s you may get amenities that you can’t find in a hotel, like a full kitchen (cook your food and save money), washer and dryer, and personal outdoor space. If you book last minute for Airbnb’s there is usually a rate cut!
I use Groupon a lot. If you don’t, I only have one question. ARE YOU CRAZY? Groupon gives you the best deals, and when it comes to travel, they really can’t be beat. Last year I went to the Dominican Republic by booking an all-inclusive trip through Groupon. This means that airfare and resort stay were included in the price. The entire trip cost me $800 (40% off through Groupon)..that’s an all inclusive resort, and round trip airfare at a luxury resort in the caribbean for 5 days.
If you like to plan activities ahead for your trips, you can use Groupon to book dinners and excursions. I’ve bought restaurant vouchers and booked tours for my vacation through Groupon and saved hundreds. But you know me, i’m all about saving even more. So when I checkout through Groupon, I activate my Ebates. Which means I am getting a refund on my already slashed prices. I got $120 back 3 months after my Dominican trip because I used Ebates. Tell me that isn’t the best travel hack!
When I studied abroad in college, I was allowed one backpack and one carry-on. Let’s just say I mastered the art of packing efficiently and learned how to style a cardigan 10 different ways!
So skip the hefty checked bag fees, and pack light. Chances are you won’t even end up wearing everything you would’ve brought, and traveling light IS way less overwhelming, especially if you have to trek your luggage around for a bit.
Buy one case of reusable plastic TSA approved bottles and fill them up with your products from home (don’t buy travel sized stuff..it’s a waste of money and plastic!)
SKIP THE “MUST EAT HERE” LIST
I’ve made that mistake way too many time. On my first trip to Charleston SC, I ate at every trendy, Instagram-worthy restaurant…and paid the price. I blew over $400 on food alone that weekend. Next time I went, I savvied up, and now I know how to eat on a dime!
Find the hole in the walls and the markets. If you are staying near a farmers market, grab your breakfast, lunch and snacks there. Visit a grocery store to grab things like sandwiches, fruit and water instead of going to the touristy cafe that will charge an arm and a leg.
SKIP THE SOUVENIRS
Don’t feel obligated to buy something for people everywhere you go..even yourself. Instead of buying yourself a tacky shot glass or oversized t-shirt, get a really nice picture taken of your or of a landmark of your destination and frame it once you get home – you’ll cherish that way more!
TRAVEL REWARD CREDIT CARDS
As most of you know, I am on a debt-free journey, which means I am not using my credit cards at all. However, using them wisely, when it comes to travel is well worth it. I do not have experience using credit card rewards for travel, but it is something I fully intend to look into and do.
The basis of it is there are certain cards that give you cash back rewards on travel, or miles for airlines. People have boasted that they’ve saved over $5,000 just from using their CC’s for travel. This holds especially true if you use a certain airline, for example, if you open a SouthWest credit card and spend a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time you will be rewarded X amount of points to redeem for plane tickets. It definitely works for people and if you are savvy with CC’s and read all the fine print, I believe it can be a great cost saving strategy.
More about this here. https://www.moneyunder30.com/best-travel-rewards-credit-card.
COMMON SENSE TRAVEL HACKS:
- Bring food with you – you can bring sealed food on an airplane and avoid those $43 a sandwich fees (I kid..kind of)
- Uber/Lyft or get a friend to drive you to the airport. Paying for airport parking almost always outweighs the cost of getting a ride. Even if it’s $50+ to the airport, you won’t get burdened with $30/day parking fees..plus if your plane gets delayed a day or two you don’t have to worry about additional fees.
- If you can stay at a hotel that offers continental breakfast, factor that in. Breakfast out can cost $10+ a person a day, so if you add that on to the price of the hotel, it may just be worth it! (I always grab extra fruit and granola bars from the breakfast buffet for snacks on the go to save extra!)
- Going somewhere you know someone? See if you can stay with them! Staying with friends or family will slash the prices tremendously, and chances are they can help you find all the cool places you would’ve have known about!
I hope this helps! A small budget should never keep you from exploring the world..with some smart tips and tricks you don’t have to slow down. And if you want some help with paying down debt and saving for those dream vacations, check out my debt-free tips!